Nov 16, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Tyler Russell (17) passing against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
The 2013 Mississippi State football season had more twists and turns than any season I can remember in some time. It seemed like there was always some unexpected hurdle, or unforeseen folly that presented itself, and in the end it was a thrill. Like a roller coaster that made you sick to your stomach at times, when it was over you were glad you went along for the ride.
To start the year off we had Oklahoma State. The game was an offensive nightmare. We looked like a team that had regressed on that side of the ball, and to throw salt on the wound Tyler Russell went down with a concussion. All of the excitement this team brought to the table in August suddenly was zapped, and questions about whether Dan Mullen knew how to make adjustments, call the right plays, and if he was just completely dumbfounded on what to do with Russell were raised.
Going into the Alcorn State game everyone knew we’d win big, even with Dak Prescott getting his first career start. He looked as good as we’d hoped, and the beat-down ensued. Some surprises from that game, however, were taking the redshirt off Ashton Shumpert and Damian Williams, the latter proved to be a very good decision.
If you remember back to this time there was a QB controversy. Looking back we know Tyler Russell missed the Auburn game, but the week of that game we didn’t know who would start. Mullen was coy all week and even up to the kickoff when Russell was announced as the starter but Dak played the entire game. Prescott came into his own on the plains and really showed that he was ready to lead the offense as a sophomore. It was a heart-breaking loss, and it probably did a lot to propel Auburn to where they are today.
At this point in the season State fans were furious. We had a win at Auburn within our grasp, but played prevent defense on the final drive and lost it. Looking back, the Auburn game wasn’t a bad loss (they are 11-1 and won the West) and we learned from the defensive strategy and eventually won games with our D on the field vs. Bowling Green, Kentucky, Arkansas and Ole Miss.
Troy came in for Week 4 and it was a much needed dominating effort, 62-7. This relieved much of the anxiety of the Auburn game as we headed into the bye week, and gave hope for LSU. The common sentiment was Dak Prescott should be our quarterback no matter how healthy Russell was going forward.
The final score the of LSU game was 59-26 but most State fans walked away feeling decent about the team. The Dawgs held with them for three quarters before it slipped away really fast in the fourth quarter. It was as good as you could possibly feel after a 33 point loss, but it was still obviously disappointing as a lot of folks felt this was our best chance to beat LSU in some time.
There was a series of events in the middle of the season that really soured much of Bulldog Nation:
- Narrow 21-20 win over Bowling Green
- Ole Miss beats LSU during MSU’s bye week
- Mark Hudspeth’s ULALA Cajun’s beat Arkansas State on a Tuesday night
- MSU barely beats Kentucky at home on a Thursday night
Despite those two wins and a 4-3 record, the level of optimism around the program and Dan Mullen’s tenure was starting to wane. The student’s left at halftime vs. BG and had left for fall break against UK. The video board was a huge topic of conversation. It seemed like nothing was really going right even though W’s were being put up.
State went into Columbia, South Carolina with what seemed like a lot of baggage from the fanbase, but Dak Prescott held even more baggage with the knowledge that he was about to lose his mother to cancer. While we played pretty good, even out-gaining the Gamecocks, his very uncharacteristic 5 turnovers were the difference. A day later his mother did pass away and Bulldog Nation rallied around him. From that point forward, the team played with renewed energy and strength. I don’t know if the two were connected, but the last four games were much different from the first eight.
Going into College Station as a 19 point underdog was daunting. Even though we were down by as much as 24 points, MSU fought back and made it a 10 point game which was still in doubt up until the closing minutes. Poor 2nd halfs were a signature of this team through the first 2/3 of the year, only averaging 7 points, but they scored 27 in this one and it wasn’t really a problem after that.
In that A&M game Dak Prescott suffered an injury that sidelined him for the Alabama game. No one really gave it too much attention since the Tide were expected to obliterate us, but they turned the ball over 4 times while the defense played great and gave State a chance to win. Tyler Russell did pretty well in the game, but was knocked out in the 4th quarter and the Bulldogs were unable to get much going, losing 20-7.
Wins and Losses were not as important as how we played in 2013. Like I mentioned above, the fanbase probably reached its lowest point after consecutive wins and a 4-3 record. After three straight losses and a 4-6 record, I think it’s fair to say MSU fans felt better about the team than they had before. State played hard in those games, and with some improvement you could see how they could have won any of those three games against top 15 teams.
Enter a must-win game in Arkansas. Dak Prescott was once again a game-time decision but he couldn’t go. Tyler Russell was able to and he had a solid game for the most part, although we were unable to score much inside the redzone, allowing the Hogs to stay in the game and force overtime. Russell went down with an injury on the final drive of regulation that would keep him out for the Egg Bowl, but Damian Williams came in and on one play in overtime ran for a 25 yard touchdown. The defense sealed it and State was still hanging on.
The Egg Bowl made the entire ride that was 2013 worth it.
There were a bunch of injuries: Jay Hughes, Justin Malone, Ferlando Bohanna, Dee Arrington, Deontae Skinner, Fred Ross, Cedric Jiles, etc. Plus guys who had nagging injuries like LaDarius Perkins and Nickoe Whitley. Tyler Russell was out, Dak Prescott was hurt and 3rd string, true freshman QB Damian Williams was in to start the most important game of the year.
The defense under Geoff Collins improved all year to the point of their finest hour on Thanksgiving night. They forced four turnovers (should have been six if reviewed), and held Ole Miss to 3 offensive points all night. Dak Prescott came in for the 4th quarter and led the Dawgs to victory.
Through it all we’ve hashed out our grievances, we’ve been up and down, wanting this QB or that QB (so we get the 3rd QB), etc. etc. etc. It was a wild year, and ultimately a fun one because of the way it ended.
There is A LOT to build off in 2013. This program is primed to take off at any minute, the match just has to be lit. Hopefully that was it over the last two games – finding a way to win and finishing games. A young team, a tough team, a Mississippi State team. Looking forward to great things in the future. Hail State!